Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: February 11, 2018

Good morning, friends. I didn't post last weekend when our daughters were visiting, so this is a two week catch up. The weather has been just about perfect here. Southwest Florida is basking in record warmth... I'll take it over windchill any day!

We celebrated one daughter's birthday on Monday, went shopping and lunching with my SIL, made four (!) trips to the airport, and, for the first time this winter, relaxed  and read  on the beach!

Recent reading//

Nonfiction always has a greater impact on me when personal stories are included, and Timothy Egan did an excellent job piecing together multiple accounts of life on the plains during the Dust Bowl. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. Especially surprising was the fact that east coast cities experienced some of the more severe "dusters" too. This book made me want to reread The Grapes of Wrath, and the mention of Red Cloud, Nebraska reminded me that it's been a while since I last read Willa Cather.

The Worst Hard Time was a read/listen combination for me. The audio version, narrated by Patrick Lawlor, was well-done, but I always checked the print version for photos and maps after my walks.

Finally, without getting political, this man-made natural disaster should serve is an important reminder that our government must consider the environmental impact of its policies.
My rating:

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Wow... what a complex and emotional novel! It started slowly, but I loved how the story gradually unfolded. Chapters alternate between the present (featuring an aging man and his two daughters) and letters written to him by his wife who disappeared years ago, and is presumed drowned. The "truth" of their marriage is revealed piecemeal through the letters. Unique structure.
My rating:

Sisters by Lily Tuck

"First and second wives are like sisters."
-Christopher Nicholson (Winter)

Wife #2, our unnamed narrator, refers to Wife #1 as She. The short chapters (some just a sentence or two) read like vignettes, but reveal so much! I liked the spare writing... you can read this little book in one sitting. Thanks for the recommendation, Diane.
My rating:

Current reading//

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
"I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me."
The read-along continues, but I didn't make much progress last week. At the 30% mark, I've settled into James' style and am enjoying the reread... but surprised at how much I've forgotten! We plan to discuss the book at the end of the month.

Instead of starting another novel in print, I'll focus on this one all week... at least until our next guests arrive over the weekend.

Beyond the books//

As they say on the island, "season" is here. The restaurants are always busy, there are lots of people on the beach, it requires more effort to navigate the bike paths, and don't even try to drive off island between 3 and 6! We've gotten used to it over the years, and plan accordingly.

My sister and brother-in-law arrive this weekend... lots of activities planned for their visit.

Have you discovered the new Instagram account dogs_infood? I'm slightly obsessed...

My FIL is coming for dinner today. We're having grilled salmon and I'm making this Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie for dessert.

How was your week? What are you reading?


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: January 28, 2018

Hello, friends. Zelda and I were on the beach early this morning to watch the sun rise. We may have some rain later, but I'd say the day is off to a  beautiful start!

Finished last week//

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

Two thirds - we're making progress! Audrey and I have been slowly reading Trollope's Palliser series, and this is book 4 of 6. It was much more exciting than Phineas Finn (book 2), thanks in part to a murder trial, but not quite as enjoyable as Can You Forgive Her? or  The Eustace Diamonds. At this point, my preference is for the ecclesiastical Barsetshire novels. Perhaps, given the current state of affairs in the US, I'm not appreciating politics in fiction as much as I might during normal times. We'll see where the next two novels take us.

I approached Phineas Redus as a read/listen combination, as usual - listening for an hour or so on my morning walk, then reading the ebook in the evening. Simon Vance has become the voice of classic British Literature for me.  The Prime Minister  is next... maybe sometime this spring/summer?

My rating:

Set aside//

It was not an easy decision to bail on my First Book of the Year. I chose to begin 2018 with the book I most regret not  reading in 2017. The writing was wonderful and the story was instantly engaging... until it wasn't. I hadn't fully invested in Cyril, so as the narrative shifted away from Catherine, his mother, I found my interest waning. After 200 + pages, I looked to twitter for advice and my blogging friends came through. Ultimately, I would have finished a book of 'normal' length, but wasn't able to justify reading another 400 pages of this chunkster. Most readers loved The Heart's Invisible Furies  and many named it their favorite book of 2017, so I wouldn't cross it off your list based on my experience.

Current reading//

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

I tend to enjoy a good "man against the elements" story and this one is fascinating, in terms of both survivors' experiences and the history. The book was brought to my attention during Nonfiction November a couple of years ago. I picked up the ebook as a daily deal shortly afterward, then grabbed the audiobook (narrated by Patrick Lawlor) a couple months ago during an audible 2-for-1 sale. Hope to finish this week.

Up next//

I loved this book when I read it many years ago and was excited to hear about John Banville's new sequel - of course I would read it! As I began to think about James' novel, my recollection of plot details were fuzzy at best... should I reread it in order to really appreciate Mrs. Osmond?  My decision was made, then Bellezza posted this photo on Instagram. As other readers began commenting on her photo, a readalong was born.

As is my habit for long classics, this will be a read/listen combination. I've selected Juliet Stevenson's narration - there are so many! The audiobook is nearly 27 hours and I think the book must be over 600 pages. We plan to read at our own pace and discuss at the end of February. Would you like to join us?

Beyond the books//
It was nice all week, so I got in a beach walk or bike ride every day. Yesterday we hiked at the local wildlife refuge.

My FIL and SIL are joining us for dinner today. I'll be serving Roast Chicken Provençal, a family favorite from the NY Times.

The Post is still selling out daily at the small island cinema, so we haven't seen it yet. We could buy tickets a day in advance, but never seem to think about it that far ahead.

We're looking forward to Thursday when our daughters arrive for a long weekend.

How was your week? What are you reading?


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: January 14, 2018

Hello, friends. It's another sunny Sunday on Sanibel, although with a chilly breeze we'll struggle to get much above 60 today. That's well below normal for this time of year, but it's still perfect weather for a long bike ride or beach walk... or spending a couple of hours on the couch watching football and reading ;-)

Current reading//
The same books as last week - January tends to be a slow reading month for me, but two chunksters make it seem more pronounced this year.

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

Our #PalliserParty continues. Book #4 of the series opens with the return of our hero from Book #2, Phineas Finn. Unlike the second novel, this one is completely engaging from the start and I'm enjoying the visit with old friends very much.

The audiobook (read by Simon Vance) is over 23 hours long, but I'm racing through it thanks, in part, to my new wireless earbuds! Have you tried them? They are truly a game changer! I don't know why I waited this long...

"Men will love to the last, but they love what is fresh and new. A woman's love can live on the recollection of the past, and cling to what is old and ugly." 
"Mr. Maule hated to be unhappy or uncomfortable, and therefore never allowed any aspiration to proceed to such length as to be inconvenient to his feelings should it not be gratified." 
"The double pleasure of pulling down an opponent, and of raising oneself, is the charm of a politician's life."

Very little reading time translates to a woeful lack of progress on my print book this week. It's very good but, at nearly 600 pages, I'm still less than a third done. I'm hoping for a day to read on the beach this week.

Beyond the books//

My father-in-law is coming over for dinner tonight. This Venetian Chicken Ragu is simmering in the crockpot (thanks to Patty) and the house smells so good! I'll let you know how it turns out. Maybe there will even be a Weekend Cooking post next week...

The Post  is playing at our small island cinema and was sold out all weekend. I'm hoping to see it sometime this week.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: Back at Last!

Good morning from sunny, but cool, Sanibel. Thanks to winter storm Grayson, our trip back took longer than expected. We spent an extra night in Fredericksburg, VA  before setting out again Thursday morning. Our winter driving skills were really put to the test... the area around Richmond was especially treacherous! We canceled a visit to Savannah, opting instead for a quick overnight in snow-free but freezing Jacksonville, FL and finally got home late Friday afternoon.

As you might expect, I haven't picked up a book or audiobook for most of the week. I did, however, finish a couple of short books just before the beginning of the year.

Finished last week//

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016, this book has been on my kindle for a while... probably purchased as a daily deal somewhere long the way. I have a weakness for big prize contenders and the plot sounded intriguing. Hot Milk  turned out to be the kind of quiet, interior novel I tend to enjoy. The setting and narrative imparted a vague sense of unease palpable throughout, though the pace was somewhat slow. Overall I liked the book, but didn't love it.

I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels or memoirs, but try to read one or two a year. Roz Chast is a favorite and I'd been hoping to get Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York from the library before the end of the year. When it became obvious that wouldn't happen, I looked for other possibilities. Described as "an intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam" this book has received praise from the book blogging community and was also available for immediate download from my library via hoopla. It was a quick, interesting reading, though I was only lukewarm on the artwork. (image source)

Current reading//

My First Book of the Year, and unfortunately I have not picked it up since New Years Day. Now that we're back and settled, there will be progress this week.

About to begin//

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
The  #PalliserParty continues! I plan to start the audio version of Book 4 (narrated by Simon Vance, of course) on my walk later today. Audrey and I have been slowly making our way through the six book series. You're welcome to join us!

How was your week? What are you reading today?


Monday, January 1, 2018

First Book of the Year: 2018

Happy New Year! For the fifth year, Sheila at Book Journey is hosting the First Book of the Year event. The idea is simple - just share a photo of you and your first book. Sheila says:
Fifth year.  I LOVE First book so much.  This tradition for me goes further back than the 5 years I have opened up to the reading world here on Book Journey.  I am THRILLED to be doing it again and thank you to those who have messaged me to ask.
The answer is…
Of course we are doing it. 
Here is what First Book is.  The first book of the New Year should be:
A.  A coveted book that you have wanted to read but have just not found the time.
B.  A delicious favorite… one you have read before, but crave to read again.
C.  Really whatever you want it to – it is after all YOUR First Book Of the year.
Make it AWESOME.

This year I selected The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Like last year, I decided to begin 2018 with the 2017 release I most regret not reading before the year ended... and even treated myself to a new hardcover edition. The book begins:
Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.
How's that for an opening line?!  I'm hooked already and plan to spend the rest of the day reading.

Have you chosen your First Book of the Year?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Wrap-up: Thoughts and Stats

And so we close the book on 2017...

This hasn't been the most productive year in terms of reading or blogging, but it has certainly been the most stress-free.

  • I did not accept any books for review in 2017. 
  • I did not join any challenges - not even the goodreads challenge. 
  • I participated in only a handful of events and readalongs.
  • I mostly abandoned book reviews, opting instead for one paragraph reaction/ratings included with my weekly wrap-up posts.
  • I pretty much read what I wanted, when I wanted.

Number Of Books Read
51 - same as last year. One book per week is a comfortable pace.

56% / 44%
A nonfiction record... due, in part, to the realization that nonfiction cures my reading slumps!

Female/Male authors 
64% / 36%
about average for me

New authors/ tried-and-true authors
68% / 32%

In translation
5 - same as last year, but dramatically lower than previous years

only 7, but enough to complete my Classics Club 50 list and begin another

24 - 11 as audio only, 13 were read/listen combinations
nearly 50% of my reading included an audio component

Shortest & longest book:
How Reading Changed My Life  by Anna Quindlen, 96 pages
The Eustace Diamonds  by Anthony Trollope, 804 pages

Most popular & least popular book: 
(based on number of goodreads ratings)
Sense and Sensibility  by Jane Austen - 1,198,837 other readers
Nagasaki  by Éric Faye - 1,078 other readers

Most surprising book (in a good way):
The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern
A book I'd never heard of, read on a whim (thanks to a goodreads suggestion) turned out to be a favorite of 2017.

Most beautifully written book read in 2017:
A Gentleman in Moscow  by Amor Towles

2017 bookish highlights:

Plans for 2018:
No major changes...

  • continue reading literary fiction, classics, and nonfiction
  • post weekly updates
  • join a few fun events (like Nonfiction November)
  • participate in some readalongs (Did I really not do one with Care this year??)
  • finish the Palliser series with Audrey
  • celebrate Lakeside Musing's 10th anniversary

Thank you all for reading and talking about books with me again this year.
Happy 2018!

Friday, December 29, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2017

I'm not sorry to see 2017 draw to a close - it's been a trying year on many levels. Despite a massive reading slump in the late summer/early fall, I read the same number of books as last year, averaging a comfortable one book per week pace. Of particular interest was a dramatic increase in nonfiction. I usually average around 30% nonfiction, but in 2017 nonfiction accounted for a whopping 44% of my reading.

Here is the list of my favorite books read in 2017, obviously not all were published this year. An asterisk denotes a read/listen combination... my favorite way to consume long novels, especially classics, and nonfiction.


Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Set in NYC during the financial collapse of 2008, this novel juxtaposes the lives of a wealthy Lehman executive with that of his Cameroonian immigrant chauffeur. The immigration aspect is especially timely and it offers an interesting perspective on the issue. I even read it before Oprah selected it for her book club ;-)

*The Nix by Nathan Hill
I absolutely loved the writing in this debut novel. At over 600 pages, it required quite a time commitment, but the ending made it all worthwhile. Meeting the author was a big plus, too.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
This collection of short stories revisits characters introduced in My Name is Lucy Barton. In fact, the author worked on both books at the same time. It stands on it's own, but my experience was enriched by a quick reread of Strout's earlier novel.

The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern
My unexpected treasure of 2017! I'd never even heard of it until goodreads suggested I might enjoy this "dark yet touching drama which deftly explores the themes of blame and forgiveness, identity and love."

*The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
You know any of my favorites lists must include at least one Trollope novel! This is the third book of the Palliser series, but is able to stand on its own...  and might even be a good introduction to the author.

Another excellent novel from Celeste Ng and winner of the goodreads choice award for best fiction of 2017, I'll be recommending this one to my book club.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The first book of my Rereading High School project, I didn't expect such a string emotional response to this novel and am glad it's still assigned to junior high/high school students.

Honorable Mention//
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney


Published nearly a decade ago, this book still offers valuable insight into North Korean life and culture.

Grocery stores, along with their operation and management, are endlessly interesting to me... just wish they could all be like Wegmans! This was a fascinating audiobook.

The audio version of this book was a delight. If you're into books about books, you might love it, too.

This is NOT a book about merry bands of retirees exploring America in RVs, but rather a tale of the American dream gone awry. There is a sizable (and growing) portion of 21st century retirees who roam the country living in vans, RVs, and even cars traveling from job to job. Bruder lived the life for several years in order to tell this story.

Everything you ever wanted to know about wine and then some... with the added bonus of a little Mary Roach-like taste science. The author does an excellent job narrating her book.

I'll be back this weekend with some final stats and thoughts to wrap up 2017 and look ahead to 2018. Happy New Year!



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